Rare Hebraica collection is expected to fetch up to $11 million at auction

london (jta) | Prayer books with commentary are plentiful today, but in medieval times they were more difficult to obtain.

Hand-lettered by master craftsmen and often boasting exquisite illuminations, prayer books were then only produced for the very rich. The precious few that survive are expensive to purchase.

But for those who can afford it, some rare and unusual Hebraica treasures will be up for grabs in New York on Oct. 27 and 28, when more than 450 items from Britain’s Montefiore Endowment are due to be sold.

Auctioneers at Sotheby’s expect the collection, spanning eight centuries and diverse parts of the diaspora, to fetch up to $11 million.

A 15th-century Hebrew Bible from Spain could go for up to $350,000, and an illuminated Italian manuscript from around 1460, containing prayers and poems on lifecycle events such as marriage, circumcision and death, is expected to go for up to $200,000.

Other treasures include Sefer Ha’assufot, a 14th-century work by the scholar Elijah ben Isaac of Carcassone, full of unpublished responsa and legal documents, that is estimated at between $120,000 and $150,000.

It’s a collection that Camilla Previte, head of Judaica at Sotheby’s in London, describes as “fantastic” both in quality and scope. “It gives an example of every area a collector could possibly want,” she says.

The assortment contains works from areas as far apart as Germany, Greece, North Africa and Yemen, and along with biblical and talmudic works encompasses subjects as varied as philosophy, medicine and music.

For Kabbalah buffs, there is Hayye Ha-Olam Ha Ba, an Italian manuscript by Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia from the late 14th- or early-15th century explaining the meanings of the 72 names of God. Written on parchment, with illustrations, it contains precise instructions for achieving mystical meditation.

The collection comes from the library of the Judith Lady Montefiore College established in 1869 by the Anglo-Jewish banker and philanthropist, Moses Montefiore. Founded in memory of Montefiore’s late wife, Judith, the institution was intended to promote the study of both Torah and Hebrew literature.

Proceeds from the auction will go toward Jewish education and scholarships in the United Kingdom, the purpose for which the Endowment Trust was formed. The organization will, however, retain the core of the collection, made up of books personally acquired by Montefiore himself.